Archive for category Adventure Weekends

Game Planning Using Concept and Resource Maps

A Concept Map is a diagram of the relationship between various ideas. It is often used for brainstorming, but can be adapted to describe the various factors in play at a LARP.

A concept map is a great way conceptualize a diverse and complicated game. Begin by diagraming what already exists. Write each players name inside a bubble, then try grouping them in different ways. Try arranging them by team, general character concept, motivation, or experience level. In doing this, certain avenues will emerge which should suggest certain types of plot. For example if you find you have a lot of characters connected to a “Protector of Nature” concept, you might create a druid NPC who will give them relevant tasks during the weekend.

Use this technique to diagram out your plot, too. Pick a few words which describe the event’s theme, and then write plotlines which connect those ideas. By connecting the plot diagram to the player diagram, you’ll be able to project what might happen during an event.

One model of LARP plot involves utilizing resources. In this style, plot provides important resources to specific players. Some challenges will require players to search the network to draw on those resources. For example, let’s say a team is looking for information about a certain  ancient undead. The healer’s guild has a tome which contains this information – the team will have to figure out where to find that book and then talk to the characters who control access to it. When you gave the book to the healer’s guild, you also warned them that there are dire consequences if the information falls into the wrong hands. Now there is a potential social challenge for the players who seek out this tome.

A Draw Point is a person, place, or thing which provides a concrete resource to one or more players.  Examples include a druid who will choose up to three nature-oriented characters and mark them as “pure”, a mountain top where a rare type of plant grows, or a badge which represents the good will of a foreign kingdom. There might be a challenge involved in getting this resource.

Generally, draw points should provide something tangible which corresponds somehow to the resource.  Even if the resource is intangible, like a relationship with an NPC, those who have access to it should have some physical token to represent their access.  Maybe the NPC gives a certain piece of jewelry to his trusted associates, or puts his mark on those he’s initiated. If the draw point is a location, maybe you need a special map to access it.

A Demand Point is a person, place, or thing which requires players to utilize certain resources to complete a challenge.  Using the examples above, demand points could include an NPC who will only speak with the “pure”, a disease that can be cured by that rare plant, or an embassy that you can only access if you wear that kingdom’s badge.

Plot_DiagramOn your concept map, your plot will emerge from the relationship between draw points and demand points.

You can encourage cooperation, competition, and creativity by writing demand points which can be satisfied by different possible draw points. For example, maybe the demand point is an elder whose village is plagued by thieves and bandits. He offers to name the new tavern after whoever helps the most. There might be a number of available resources that can be used to solve this challenge – one character might have access to a cache of weapons they can donate to the locals. Another character might be friends with a weapon trainer who will help raise a militia. Another might have access to a small tribe of orcs who will act as town guards. A member of the thieves guild might be able to influence the bandits by pulling strings within the guild.

Another way of complicating matters is to create demand points which, when completed, cancel out other demand points. For example, there might be two NPCs, each one a diplomat from a rival faction. Each diplomat has certain criteria for alliance. Allying with one will cause the other to become an enemy. The first player to complete a diplomat’s challenge will shape the direction of the plot.

Mapping out these points, along with the players or concepts which are most likely to interact with them, will reveal certain angles which need more attention. If you seem to have a lot of plot which lends itself well to one team, resource, character concept, or problem solving style, be sure to write some challenges for the people who aren’t included.

Update your concept map as the weekend goes on, noting which characters have access to which resources. This will allow you to make it easier to keep everybody involved, and help everybody participate in the plot in a concrete, meaningful way.

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The Battle Board: A Game Within a Game

The Battleboard in BraveheartThe Battle Board is a LARP device which can be integrated into an adventure weekend. It is a board game within a game. In it, players command armies and engage in tactical mass combat. For important battles, they’ll be able to gate onto the battlefield and lead the offense personally.

This mechanic will simulate a large decentralized battle which lasts for the majority of the event. You will need a map of the battlefield which is divided into regions. Generally, the map should cover the town that the players are in and the 20 square miles around it. Design it like a Risk map, with irregularly shaped territories. During the game, tokens will be placed on this map to represent the player’s and NPC’s forces.

Hiring Soldiers – Throughout the weekend, players may acquire the allegiance of soldiers or mercenaries. NPCs playing the captains of each company will approach adventurers in the tavern, looking for leadership. Mercenaries will hire themselves out, whereas companies of soldiers might pledge themselves to the nobility. Make sure that there are enough companies that every player or team has access to at least one. Don’t make it too expensive -each piece will represent a piece on the game board, and it’s a lot of fun if everybody has a piece.

Each company has a value between 1-5, representing its size and skill. As a default, each number represents about 10 people (so a unit with about 30 soldiers has a value of 3).

Certain units may have special objectives or properties, such as local rangers who are sworn to battle all orcs, or local militia who cannot go more than two territories from their hometown.

The Game Board – The game map will be placed in the tavern, or some other accessable, safe location. Tokens on the board represent friendly and hostile companies, many of which will be under the command of one or more players.

For pieces, you can use tabletop gaming miniatures or use pieces from commercial wargames such as Weapons and Warriors. Put candles and soft lighting around the map, and dress up the area to make it feel like a war room. As the players wait anxiously for the scout to return with the results of the last hour’s orders, this should feel more immersive than a board game!

This is just a map, not a magical represntation of the battlefield. It will be  updated by a scout once an hour. The scouts have a complex communication system which involves flags, magic flares, and whispering wind spells. They are able to quickly survey the battlefield and send word on how the map should be updated. Once per hour, a player may talk to that scout and give order to any troops he commands. The scout will write down the command and relay it to the troops.

Once an hour, the scout will go off stage and process all the commands. When he’s done, he’ll return to the game and adjust the game board to reflect the results.

To make this seem as realistic as possible, do not let the players see the die rolls, and never reference the gameplay mechanics of this system. Their information about the battle should come from the scouts. It easier to imagine a real battle when you’re hearing a report, as opposed to thinking about numbers or other abstractions.

Battle Mechanics – you can use any mechanic you’d like to determining how far units can move and how to resolve combat. A very simple system is perhaps the best. When two units come into conflict, each one gets to roll a d6 and add its power value. The difference in numbers determines which side suffers damage, and how much.

Players are allowed to give creative orders to to their units, especially if the unit has a special concept or skill. For example, a player commanding a unit of dark elves might order an ambush when attacking at night. A unit of dwarves may have explosives they can use to level enemy walls. A unit of elven archers can attack units one square away if they are on higher ground.

Terrain can provide special conditions too – occupying a town might provide a defensive advantage, or an opportunity for adventurers to gate in and begin pillaging it (see below).

If the enemy makes it to the edge of the town that the players are in, they’ll actually show up on-stage with swords drawn — and attack!

Gate Stones – This battle will be going on in the background as the adventure weekend continues. For the most part, the action is on a map in the tavern. But players can participate more directly, too. By using gate stones, magical items which can be found during the weekend, they can teleport their party to the battlefield and relieve their troops. In these module, the players will fight waves of NPCs representing the opposing army. (for example, an army of 40 soldiers could be represented by 10 NPCs who each respawn 4 times) .

This type of relief might be required if the enemy unit contains an elite combatant such as a monster, high level commander, or other “boss fight” type character. (regular troops just aren’t equipped to fight magic-to-hit creatures!) Other special scenarios might also require assistance from the adventurers. For example, enemy archers stand atop a tower which gives them additional range. The players can gate to the top of the tower and stop the archers, allowing the troops below to move through the region unharmed.

Who’s in Charge Here? In a real war, there’d be only a few commanders who would make decisions for the entire force. But that wouldn’t be any fun for gameplay. In this model, all players are supposed to get a turn.

Historically, in addition to soldiers, medieval warfar utilized a lot of mercenaries. In our game, the nobles each get a unit or two of soldiers, but the mercenaries prefer to report to freelance adventurers or adventurer companies. If they suspect that their orders are actually coming from someone other than their commander, they’ll start to lose morale.

The Atmosphere of War – The region is electrified by the presence of war. Peasants will seek refuge, monsters will be roused from their lairs, and villages will be pillaged. The other encounters going on during the adventure weekend should reinforce the idea that there’s a big battle going on nearby! During these encounters, players might have the opportunity to do things which influence the battle. For example, the enemy army has marched through a local graveyard, sowing the area with necromancy as they went. The dead arise and the players must show up to save the day. In doing so, they earn the respect of the local militia. That party now gains access to a piece on the board representing the forces of that town. Or perhaps there is a swamp populated by hostile wild elves. If the players go there and make peace with them, they will be able to move troops through that space on the board.

The Climax – the most important battle of the weekend should be a climax of some sort, in which all the adventurers get to gate in to help. This is a big wave battle where everybody can help participate in the glorious triumph. But if they haven’t played the battle game well, and haven’t softened up the enemy forces enough yet, they might be overwhelmed! Players can retreat through the gate which took them here, but cannot return through it again.

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The Cast: Recurring NPCs

Recurring NPCs, (sometimes called “Town NPCs” because they are characters who hang out with the adventurers in “town”) are a way of keeping your players in touch with your chapter or event story. Each chapter or event should have several NPCs which serve as the focal point for the plot. This is not to say that the focus IS these characters, but rather that the focus on the players comes through these cast members.

These plot controlled characters, or Cast,  can serve your plotlines in many useful ways.

Designing a Cast

In the absence of visible plot, your chapter’s theme and atmosphere will be carried through these recurring NPCs. Think hard about who you’d meet if you hung out in your game world. Who are the people who would get you involved in the action?

The cast will serve as the hooks and foils for much of the chapter’s plot, so they need to be versatile enough to get involved in different plotlines. Create NPCs who seem both relevant to this year’s storylines and relevant to the character’s general motivations. If your chapter runs a war plotline, consider an NPC who is a high ranking officer in the army. If there’s a lot of ancient magic in your plot, the mage’s guild master might end up playing a critical role.

In some ways, your cast members represent what is relevant about your chapter’s plot. They can stand-in for entire groups or factions – for example there might be a city of Sarr nearby, but there’s one matriarch who comes to town and represents the group.

Even the bad guys can have cast members. There’s a lot of intrigue and drama possible if there’s a questionable character in town you can spy on, assissinate, or make deals with. It also makes the conflict with the villain very present, local, in-your-face. You’ll have to come up with a way for the villains’ lackeys to walk around in town without getting jumped by every do-gooder with a sword. Perahps the character is an ambassador, a slave who can escape now and then, or a turncoat.

Cast members should have big, memorable personalities. Take the time to design interesting characters who are fun to interact with. In addition to a character history, hobbies, pet peeves, habits, and neuroses are great ways to bring a character to life.

How to Use a Cast

Because Cast members are relatively accessable, they should try to develop personal relationships with most of the players. This gives you an excuse to hook nearly any group with nearly any cast member. Since cast members often represent some element of the game’s theme, plot, or atmosphere, it gives players a personal way to relate to those concepts. For example, if your season plotline is about a war against Orcs, having a soldier or orc that the players can talk to gives them a backdrop to react to the story even if they’re not directly involved in the plot.

Cast members need to be able to spout information about the setting. They are the player’s proxy for the citizens in our imagined game world. For example, the players may want to know if their spell worked and the crops stopped dying. Due to the way LARPs operate, they probably can’t just visit a farm and take a look. But they can talk to one of the local cast members, who likely knows a thing or two about the local conditions.

The Cast member’s role in the story need not be cut-and-dry. These characters can be more intersting if they’re complex. Maybe their allegiances shift over time, or they have certain topics about which they are untrustworthy. You should seldom be able to peg a cast member as a “good guy” or “bad guy”… they often have internal conflicts and gray-area motivations just like any player character.

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Treasure

Treasure is the boon and bane of many NERO chapters. It’s a very important thing to pay attention to because it is the most tangible reward for playing the game. Players want it, then they want more of it. They rob each other for it, and they measure their success by it. They compete over it and they cooperate for it. Often, you’ll hear players coming out of a module, components in hand, saying “Well the adventure wasn’t very exciting, but at least I scored some good loot.” But treasure is often an afterthought to directors, who are focused on writing and running plot. This article examines treasure, distribution, inflation, and rewarding players for playing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Game Planning Using Plot Checklists

There’s a lot that goes into planning an Adventure Weekend. There may be dozens of plotlines running at any given event. Your players will go through these plotlines, and through them, experience your chapter’s story and theme. Most LARP staffs have multiple writers all churning out material to create the weekend-long gaming experience.

But how can you be sure  you’ve covered all the bases? Multiple writers working on the same project often leave holes, gaps in the atmosphere which nobody addressed. For example, you may get to the end of an adventure weekend and realize there were a few groups that didn’t get to go on a module. Or that one particular story thread never made it to game-time at this event. Why does this happen?

Sometimes you find that you are missing a resource necessary to the plot. An important NPC may have injured himself or missed the event. Maybe someone forgot to bring a certain costume, or a critical prop is missing. A lot of these things can be avoided by writing flexible plot – stories which don’t rely on one easily misplaced lynchpin.

But these are operational concerns. This doesn’t account for holes that existed before the weekend even started.

To help you organize your ideas and make sure they are all incorporated into the game, you might use a Plot Check List.

A Plot Check List is a list of all the things that the plot is “about” at the event. As you and your staff writes for the event, check those ideas off the list. Items that are part of your event’s core theme should be checked off multiple times.

Here are some things you might find on a plot check list:

  • Teams – make sure each team is hooked directly into at least one plotline. In-game organizations like Guilds and Noble Courts should have at least one plotline per weekend which relates directly to their team concept.
  • Character Classes – you might design battles with specific classes in mind
  • Levels – you can ensure that everybody has at least one well-scaled thing to do on the weekend by creating a module that you’re elligible for just by being a specific level. Run it once for players level 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc.
  • Theme – the event’s theme should be reenforced during multiple plotlines. Some memorable themes are “Difficult Choices” and “Survival”.
  • Elements, Fae, Transforms, Diplomacy, Exploration… recurring storylines become part of the chapter’s atmosphere. If you have a particular part of the game universe which is especially relevant to your chapter, make sure it’s included in each event’s script.
  • Racial Plot – which game races get specific plot this weekend?
  • Feedback from Event Surveys – what did the players ask for? Puzzles, role play encounters, certain types of plot… Make sure feedback is addressed by incorporating it into the plot checklist.

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